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Ep1: Ken Giller on the Food Security Conundrum

Episode summary

Why does agricultural research often fall short of addressing food insecurity challenges in sub-Saharan Africa? In this conversation with Ken Giller, we explore this wicked problem from a systems perspective examining the diverse drivers and experiences of smallholder farmers and the socio-ecological systems in which they are embedded.

Ken provides a nuanced look at agroecological solutions and argues that relying solely on nature-based solutions would be inadequate to address food security problems in Africa. We also talk about the huge diversity of farmers that can be found under the banner of smallholders, an in-depth examination of the “yield gap,” and what gets lost when translating research into practice.

[ Transcript available ]

Music in this episode (by blue dot sessions):

Insatiable Toad by Origami
Jumbel by Muffuletta
Wax Paper Jewel by Origami


About Ken Giller

Ken is professor of Plant Production Systems at WUR within the Centre for Agroecology and Systems Analysis for nearly 20 years. He is a former professor of soil science at University of Zimbabwe, with extensive experience in tropical farming systems in Africa, S and SE Asia, and Latin America. Over the 25 years, Ken has been focusing on smallholder farming in sub-Saharan Africa. He is currently co-chairing an eDialogue - What future for small-scale farming? with Foresight4Food in his capacity of co-Chair of the “Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems” network of the UN-Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Ken was a project leader of N2AFRICA, a large scale, science-based “research-in-development” project focused on ‘Putting nitrogen fixation to work for smallholder farmers growing legume crops in Africa’, which was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Ken published  The Food Security Conundrum of sub-Saharan Africa in the journal of Global Food Security in November 2020.


Background reading and resources

Outomes of E-dialogue: What future for small-scale farming?

Blogpost by Ken Giller - Policy options for small-scale farming

TABLE explainer - What is the land sparing-sharing continuum?

What is the future of work in agri-food?


Key terms / definitions 

Food security

Yield gap

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Demrew Wossenyeleh
19-02-2023 05:59
My comment is that the problem with agricultural production system in Africa is well described. There is a blanket recommendation of farming system practice in Africa with out giving emphasis on agro ecology,soil type and other factors that determine the production system. Moreover there is a gab on fulfilling availability of technologies,infrastructural facilities,market linkage,credit facilities...etc to the small holder farmers.
Carolyne Imbwaga
07-03-2023 12:07
Problem with agricultural production system in Africa are enormous. There is resistance to adopt new technologies either due to fear of the unknown or it is way beyond affordability. There is need for comprehensive training from the grassroots and involvement of opinion leaders. The average age for Kenyan farmer is 61 years, but over 75% of the population is under 35 years. This complicates the issue of having the old to fend for the young amidst hardships, inadequate knowledge. these leaves to approximately 4million people facing hunger. There is need for multisector approach and make agriculture more lucrative to attract the young generation.
Buhari Zubairu
29-03-2023 18:00
I agree with you.
There is a need for a dynamic approach based on what is obtainable across regions and for plant types.